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North Okanagan centre for child victims of abuse at risk as funding dries up

Brooke McLardy, manager of the Oak Centre.
May 26, 2017 - 4:42 PM

VERNON - A centre that supports child victims of abuse is on uncertain financial ground as its two-year pilot project funding comes to an end.

The Oak Centre in Vernon is a unique place — one of just eight such centres across B.C. either open or in development — where children and youth under 19 who have experienced abuse or sexual assault, or who have witnessed domestic violence, can give police statements, meet with social workers and get support through the criminal justice system.

But according to Oak Centre manager Brooke McLardy, they don’t know how it will be funded now that an initial $410,000 in seed funding spread out over three years from the federal government is drying up.

“As of the end of March 2018 we don’t have guaranteed funding,” McLardy says.

To date, no funding from either the federal or provincial government has been designated for the continuation of the centre.

The Oak Child and Youth Advocacy Centre provides a calm setting for victims to make police statements and connect with social workers.
The Oak Child and Youth Advocacy Centre provides a calm setting for victims to make police statements and connect with social workers.

In response to a request for an interview, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General sent the following written statement:

“This is a federally-funded program which the province supports through provision of victims services. For information on permanent funding, please contact Justice Canada.”

A lengthy statement received from Justice Canada includes general information about Child Advocacy Centres but does not specifically state if any funding will be available to the Oak Centre beyond 2018.

“The Child Advocacy Centres initiative provides funding to a number of victim-serving, non-governmental organizations… whose programs and activities are aligned with the Victims Fund and Government of Canada priorities. Although the availability of funding is ongoing, funding is limited, and therefore, not all eligible proposals are funded,” Justice Canada states.

iNFOnews.ca requested an interview with Justice Canada, however no one was available. A follow up question seeking clarification about ongoing funding was not responded to by deadline. On its website, Justice Canada says the Victims Fund only provides funding for up to two years and cannot be used for ongoing or core operational expenses. 

The absence of guaranteed funding has left the Oak Centre anxious about the future.

Before the Oak Centre, children would be interviewed at the police detachment. At the Oak Centre, they'll see bright artwork on the walls, be offered a snack and a drink before their interview, and a chance to play with a basket full of toys afterwards.
Before the Oak Centre, children would be interviewed at the police detachment. At the Oak Centre, they'll see bright artwork on the walls, be offered a snack and a drink before their interview, and a chance to play with a basket full of toys afterwards.

“We started out with a lot of hope that it (funding) would be sorted out before the pilot ran out — and it might be — but we’re not there yet,” McLardy says. “Things seem to have fallen into place so far, but there are no guarantees for next year.”

The centre is actively seeking out grants, but it’s difficult and time-consuming to try to fund the space piece-meal, and McLardy says they are looking for long-term, core funding to keep the facility going.

“It’s really difficult to try and develop a program you want to be a permanent fixture when you don’t know where your funding is coming from year after year,” she says.

From January 2016 to April of this year, 263 children from the North Okanagan came though the centre. 

“Before, they would typically be seen at the detachment, which is a bit scary for a kid,” McLardy says.

The Oak Centre looks and feels very different from a police detachment. It has comfortably furnished interview rooms, baskets of toys, and paintings done by children hung on the walls.

“The research says if we can make a child physically and emotionally comfortable, that they’re more comfortable to make disclosures and provide the information we need,” McLardy says. “The environment makes a huge difference.”

The centre also streamlines the process and brings all agencies together so children don’t have to be interviewed multiple times by police and social workers.

The approach is a unique departure from how child abuse cases have been handled in the past, and McLardy believes it is the future of child advocacy work.

“The children and youth of the North Okanagan are fortunate to have this service,” McLardy says. "Any support we can get for letting the government know this is an important service in the North Okanagan would be helpful.”


To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2017
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